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Smith v. City of Little Rock

March 1, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge


Patrice Smith brought this suit against the City of Little Rock alleging unlawful race discrimination, sex discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII. The City has now moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, that motion is granted.

A court should grant summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion and identifying the portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Group Health Plan, Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 344 F.3d 753, 763 (8th Cir. 2003). When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), "the nonmoving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1986) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party sustains this burden by showing that "there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511. When a nonmoving party cannot make an adequate showing on a necessary element of the case on which that party bears the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2552. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Boerner v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 260 F.3d 837, 841 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Rabushka ex rel. U.S. v. Crane Co., 122 F.3d 559, 562 (8th Cir. 1997)). If the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party, summary judgment should be denied. Derickson v. Fid. Life Ass'n, 77 F.3d 263, 264 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510).

The Eighth Circuit has said "that 'summary judgment seldom should be granted in discrimination cases where inferences are often the basis of the claim.'" Duncan v. Delta Consol. Indus., Inc., 371 F.3d 1020, 1024 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Breeding v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., 164 F.3d 1151, 1156 (8th Cir. 1999)); see also Bassett v. City of Minneapolis, 211 F.3d 1097, 1099 (8th Cir. 2000). But see Bainbridge v. Loffredo Gardens, Inc., 378 F.3d 756, 762 (8th Cir. 2004) (Arnold, J., dissenting).


The following facts are undisputed. Smith was employed as a police captain in the Little Rock Police Department. The police department chain of command, from top to bottom, is chief of police, assistant chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, and police officer. There are nine captains in the police department, each of whom is in charge of a division. During the time period relevant to this lawsuit, Carlos Corbin was an assistant chief of police and Smith's immediate superior. Lawrence Johnson was the chief of police from March 1, 2000, until his retirement on January 1, 2005.

The several incidents of which Smith complains happened between early April 2004 and January 2005. The first incident occurred when the police department held one of its monthly COMPSTAT meetings in early April 2004. Johnson had introduced COMPSTAT -- an acronym for computerized or comparative statistics -- during his tenure as chief of police. COMPSTAT was an approach to crime reduction involving the use of statistics to detect patterns of crime and identify the problem areas demanding the most attention. Each captain would present at the monthly COMPSTAT meetings both a review of crime statistics in the particular area under that captain's command and a discussion of what the captain had done in the preceding month to address problem areas. Before the COMPSTAT meeting in early April, Smith asked Johnson if she could give her presentation last. Johnson agreed. After Smith's presentation, Johnson made a comment that "gremlins must have eaten [Smith's] slides."

Later that month, Smith received a written reprimand from Corbin dated April 13, 2004. The letter stated that the discipline was for violations of police regulations by Smith discovered as a result of an internal investigation begun in 2002. A written reprimand is, next to an oral reprimand, the second mildest form of discipline. A letter of reprimand does not result in the loss of any compensation or benefits and does not negatively impact an employee's ability to be considered for promotion. Smith wrote a letter of rebuttal dated April 29, 2004, in response to the letter of reprimand. In that letter, Smith admitted that she violated police regulations but asserted that the letter of reprimand was not in line with the City's policy of progressive discipline and would adversely affect her ability to compete in the upcoming promotional process to assistant chief. Despite Smith's request, her discipline was not diminished.

The police department held another COMPSTAT meeting at the end of April. Smith was out sick and did not attend that meeting. A few days after the meeting, Johnson transferred Smith from her position as division commander of the downtown patrol to administration. Smith's transfer was effective May 8, 2004.

The next incident arose out of the June 3, 2004, COMPSTAT meeting. In the middle of May 2004, Corbin contacted Smith and directed her to do the overall presentation concerning crime in the whole city during the COMPSTAT meeting on June 3. At that meeting, Smith did not make a presentation. Corbin sent Smith an email asking for a detailed memo explaining why Smith had failed to make her COMPSTAT presentation. On June 4, Smith responded in a memo that "[b]ecause of the stress, humiliation, and belittlement" she had endured surrounding COMPSTAT, she was unable to complete and present the report. Smith was then sent a notice that her superiors were considering serious disciplinary action against her. An administrative hearing was held August 2, 2004. Smith, through her lawyer, requested that she receive no more than a written reprimand for her failure to present at the June 3 COMPSTAT meeting. Smith received a letter of reprimand dated August 18, 2004, from Corbin citing her failure to make the June 3 COMPSTAT presentation as the reason for the discipline.

In October 2004 Smith competed for a promotion to assistant chief. The promotion process consisted of three components -- education, assessment center, and accomplishments review -- in which the candidates were scored. The three candidates with the highest composite score were eligible for promotion. For the assessment center component, each candidate was given two exercises to perform and were scored by three assessors. Smith's assessors were Edna Drake, a white female; Daniel Moses, a black male; and Randall Aragon, a white male. For the accomplishments component, each candidate completed a questionnaire and then participated in a structured interview by a group of panelists. Smith's panelists were Wendell Jones, a black male; Mae Kerr, a white female; and Guy Lowes, a white male. Smith's composite score was not high enough to be eligible for promotion. Smith appealed her score in the assessment center component, but an appeals panel upheld the score.

Smith filed two charges with the EEOC regarding the above incidents. Smith filed her first charge of discrimination with the EEOC on July 7, 2004. The boxes for race and sex were checked on that charge. The particulars of the charge mentioned the April letter of reprimand and the May transfer, as well as three prior transfers, as instances of discrimination. The charge also mentioned that Smith complained of discriminatory harassment by the chief and assistant chief to the police department's human resources department. Smith received her right-to-sue letter for her first charge on July 13, 2004. Smith filed her second charge with the EEOC on December 28, 2004. On that charge the boxes for sex and retaliation were checked. The pertinent part of the particulars of that charge stated:

In October 2004, I learned that I was not selected for the position of Assistant Chief of Police. I have filed previous EEOC Charges of Discrimination and recent internal complaints with Human Resources and our Internal Affairs Division alleging that I have been subjected to harassment, discrimination and an hostile work environment by one of the Assistant Chiefs and the Chief of Police. I am continuing to be subjected to this type of treatment. I was disciplined this year for allegedly committing an infraction that happened four to five years ago. The most recent disciplinary action I received was in August 2004.

On August 11, 2005, Smith received her right-to-sue letter for her second charge. Subsequent to her filing of the two charges, Sergeant Jill Garrard of the downtown patrol division was ordered not to ride around in a police car with Smith during duty hours. In reaction to that order, Smith filed an internal complaint on January 5, 2005, alleging that she was being harassed. Stacy Witherell, a manager in the City's human resources department, investigated Smith's complaint. After the investigation, Donald Flegal, the director of the City's human ...

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